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"Wodehouse reviewed with a discerning eye."
P.G. Wodehouse, Biffen's Millions (AKA Frozen Assets)
I really wanted to like this book, but this tale of Edmond Biffen Christopher (not the "Biffy" of the Jeeves series) was slow going from start to finish. I found myself not really caring about the characters and their contrived predicaments. A few hours' reading took me almost a week to finish.
Having said that, the language is still as beautiful as ever. Wodehouse is always putting words in uncommon situations. For example, someone will "trouser" an item, or instead of screaming shrilly, he will say "she shrilled." A wonderful way to expand one's vocabulary.
But all in all, this book failed my acid test of a Wodehouse novel: I didn't laugh out loud once.
P.G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves [audiobook]
P.G. Wodehouse, My Man Jeeves [audiobook]
Martin Jarvis' reading of Carry On, Jeeves runs circles around Jonathan Cecil's reading of anything (for more on Cecil, see Psmith: Journalist). He simply embodies the characters of Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Biffy, Corky, and all the cast (albeit with the same typical attempt at an American accent).
Carry On, Jeeves contains eight of the ten stories available in the print version, so completists will want that, but for pure enjoyment, you can't go wrong with this. Even the titles Wodehouse writes are funny, my favorite being "The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy." They simply roll off the tongue.
The stories here include "Jeeves Takes Charge" (chronologically the first as it tells the story of Jeeves' entry into Bertie's life). The others, namely "The Artistic Career of Corky," "Clustering Round Young Bingo," "Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest" (about a young cousin of Bertie's who goes wild under his wing), and "Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg" are all classics of the Wodehousian genre and show Jeeves at his problem-solving best.
My Man Jeeves consists of the remaining two stories from the printed Carry On, Jeeves collection--one of which has Jeeves himself as the narrator--as well as three stories starring Bertie Wooster's predecessor, Reggie Pepper. Pepper by himself isn't as funny or touching as the relationship between Jeeves and Wooster, but the predicaments are identical to those that Bertie would find himself getting into. The only difference is that Reggie manages to extricate himself from the troubles, unlike Bertie, who relies on the wiles of his man, Jeeves.
Either of these two collections would appeal to the casual Wodehouse fan, and are perfect for long road trips or any other situation where a laugh is needed. Wodehouse exceeds all others in humor and, one assumes, will remain that way for centuries to come.
P.G. Wodehouse, Cocktail Time
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form in Ex Libris Reviews. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.
A P.G. Wodehouse novel is always a delight. Cocktail Time's plot is like that of a stage farce, so it's no surprise that it was recently adapted for the stage. The plot is rather convoluted, therefore, so I won't go into it here but it all begins when Raymond "Beefy" Bastable gets his hat knocked off by a flying walnut. He decides to write a book (the titular "Cocktail Time") about the sad state of today's youth and it goes from there.
Cocktail Time was a little long, as the plot could have wound up before it did, but when Wodehouse is doing the writing--with his gift for language--there is always room for more. I didn't enjoy this as much as, say, Piccadilly Jim, but I would definitely look for another book featuring these characters.
P.G. Wodehouse, Laughing Gas
Laughing Gas was the first Wodehouse I ever read. I knew his work through some Jeeves tales (and their TV adaptations), but I had never ventured outside of those characters. Seeing that the storyline was somewhat like the Freaky Friday genre of films, I wanted to see what Wodehouse would do with this already familiar plot. I was not disappointed and I have gone back to him whenever I wanted something to make me laugh--as long as it's not an audiobook read by Jonathan Cecil!
Reginald, Third Earl of Havershot (gotta love those Wodehouse puns) finds himself in the dentist's chair after an embarrassing incident seated next to child star Joey Cooley ("Idol of American Motherhood"), going through the same procedure. After the administration of some of the titular anesthetic, the two have an out-of-body experience. The mischievous Cooley, however, instead of returning to his own corporeal form, slips into Reggie's, leaving our hero left with the tot's as his only choice. Hilarity ensues, as they say, as little Joey likes to go around punching people in the nose and continues to do so under the guise of Reggie. Meanwhile Reggie is party to the stories going around about "his" behavior and is powerless to stop them while in his current pint-sized form.
Wodehouse takes this in all of the expected directions and invents a few new ones, to boot, making Laughing Gas one of his best novels. Well, one of the best I've read, anyway.
P.G. Wodehouse, Piccadilly Jim
For anyone who likes the Jeeves stories, I recommend continuing with the Wodehouse oeuvre with this short novel. It's an embarrassing thing to laugh out loud in public, but I enjoyed every page of this quick-paced story.
The story involves Jimmy Crocker, who is a bit of a troublemaker. Always getting into scuffles in his home country of England (the papers call him "Piccadilly Jim" to his chagrin), he decides to go to New York. On the way, he meets a beautiful young woman, but later hears her talking to her family about what an awful person "that James Crocker" is. He decides in order to meet her, he will have to pretend to be someone else, one Algernon Bayliss (a name made up on the spur of the moment).
However, due to his uncanny resemblance to James Crocker (he is continually running into people who recognize him as Crocker), the girl plans to pass "Algernon" off as Crocker to their shared aunt. So Jimmy has to pretend to be Algernon pretending to be Jimmy, all the while trying to get this girl to fall in love with him. (They're really only step-cousins through a second marriage.)
This is a terrific story of mistaken identity (there are several other events involved including James' father masquerading as a butler and a rich couple's child who wants to be kidnapped in order to split the proceeds) but Wodehouse carries all the confusion perfectly, making sure we are able to follow the action, yet without insulting our intelligence, a great feat in itself.
P.G. Wodehouse, Psmith: Journalist [unabridged audiobook]
Maybe I'd had an overdose of Wodehouse when I listened to this, having read Piccadilly Jim, Biffen's Millions, Plum Pie, and this practically in a row, but I was simply not entertained by Psmith Journalist at all.
Perhaps it was Jonathan Cecil's reading (and I know that had a lot to do with it). His characterizations are indistinguishable and his attempt at an American accent is laughable (if you have heard any Monty Python, you'll recognize it).
But I think that could have been overlooked (or overlistened?) if the story had grabbed me. It seemed to be about Psmith taking over a New York rag and making it into a scandal sheet, involving a boxer somewhere along the way, but I can't be sure. I just didn't care, and I found nothing funny at all.
There is nothing to offer the casual Wodehouse fan in this novel. However, I will read his work again, as he has so much to offer in other books.
But I really think it's mainly Jonathan Cecil's fault.
(Email me and let me know what you think.)